1960-1961 Pontiac Ventura

The 1960-1961 Pontiac Ventura's development is a story of a detour that led from one successful line to another. Pontiac's instincts for creating the Bonneville -- making it sporty and splashy -- had been correct. The nameplate quickly became famous for its muscular flair. But when the division wanted to cash in on the Bonneville's reputation with a full line of family cars, it seemed to be abandoning a successful formula. Could lightning strike again?

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1961 Pontiac Ventura
The 1961 Pontiac Ventura was the model's last year before it
morphed into the Grand Prix. See more pictures of Pontiacs.

The expansion of the Pontiac Bonne­ville from a specialty model into a full line of cars for 1959 set forth a chain of events that culminated in the introduction of the Grand Prix in 1962. There was a brief intermediate step in this progression, a car that blended hardtop style with touches of luxury and performance. Pontiac called it the Ventura.

For the first two years of its life, the Bonneville, the brainchild of Pontiac General Manager Semon E. "Bunkie" Knudsen, was a limited-edition technological showcase for the recently revitalized General Motors division. As such, it sported such leading-edge features as fuel injection, six-way adjustable seats, and, later, air suspension.

Though the 1957 Bonneville was based on the Star Chief, the largest of Pon­tiac's series that year, it was 6.9 inches shorter than the 1959 model. (Even more dramatic was the difference in length between the 1958 and 1959 Bonne­villes -- a full nine inches.) The longer, wider 1959 Bonneville was moving away from being a sporty performance machine and settling in as a more stately and luxurious car.

It was more family friendly, too, with a four-door hardtop and Safari station wagon joining the convertible and hardtop coupe. Performance powerplants such as the 389-cubic-inch Tri-Power V-8 were still available, as were manual trans­missions, but the Bonneville was heading in a new direction.

With the Bonneville's rise to the top of the Pontiac series hierarchy, a void was left in the division's product mix for a trim, sporty car with high-performance intentions and upscale ap­point­ments. This situation was rectified in 1960 with the introduction of the Ventura, and it was an instant hit with car buyers who had a different mindset than "bigger is always better."

Based on the 122-inch-wheelbase Cat­alina platform, the Ventura was offered only in two- and four-door hardtop body styles. A convertible was not offered; nor were pillared sedans and station wagons. The idea was to keep the model line a bit more exclusive, and offering the Ventura in all possible body styles would just dilute the concept.

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1960 Pontiac Ventura

Visually, the 1960 Pontiac Ventura shared much with the rest of the Pontiac line. It was the second year of the the highly touted "Wide-Track" platform, introduced for 1959. As such, the styling was updated from the year before. While the basic platform was unchanged and everything above the beltline remained the same, the lower sheetmetal was new.

1960 Pontiac Ventura
The 1960 Ventura was launched in a rare year
for Pontiac: one without a split grille.

Up front, a conventional full-width horizontal-bar grille design replaced the split-grille theme used on 1959 Pontiacs. The new look featured a forward-thrusting center section that was vee'd at the center and framed the horizontal quad headlamps and small round turn signals.

The hood design was also new. It picked up the "V" shape of the grille and the crease formed at its leading edge was carried back to the middle of the front doors. A similar line sprouted in the middle of the rear doors on four-door cars (or just aft of the portals on two-door models) and was carried back to the taillamp panel.

The taillamps themselves were two small round units per side that were faired into "tubes" on the deck panel, giving the impression of small rockets built into the tail. The lower rear panel was attractively sculpted and also housed the optional horizontal back-up lamps at the far ends. The decklid was quite long and flat, almost appearing large enough to land a small airplane. This updating below the beltline, combined with the wraparound windshield and backlight, effectively bridged the gap between the rather bulbous designs of the Fifties and the more angular designs that were to come.

The main external differences between the Ventura and the other 1960 Pontiacs were the Ventura scripts on the front fenders and block-letter series identification on the rear panel. Like the Catalina, the Ventura's sides had a simple midbody spear of brightwork that ran the length of the car. (Bonnevilles and Star Chiefs featured additional adornments on their rear quarter panels.)

While the 1960 Pontiac's front-end design was clean and very attractive, the loss of the split-grille theme did, in fact, water down its identity a bit. It just did not scream "Pontiac" like the 1959s did. It could just as easily have been used on that year's Oldsmobile, and was actually similar in layout to that of the 1960 Oldsmobile.

The Ventura hardtop coupe used an arcing roof, while the hardtop sedan used a flat-top design with a slight rear overhang. Both roofs, which were shared with other General Motors makes, featured very slender rear pillars and expansive rear windows that lent an open, airy feel to the interiors that just wasn't possible with pillared designs.

The interior was both visually appealing and luxurious. Unlike the Star Chief, which brought more-spartan Catalina-like upholstery to the larger 124-inch Bonneville chassis, the Ventura combined an upscale Bonneville-inspired interior with the smaller Catalina platform.

The 1960 Pontiac dash panel, while similar to the unit used in 1959, was revised somewhat with a new gauge cluster fitting into the same dash opening. A horizontal speedometer with four small round gauges underneath replaced the three large round gauges used the year before. Venturas also featured an aluminum faceplate across the passenger side of the dash, accented with a gold script.

The Ventura's tri-tone Morrokide upholstery in a vertically pleated pattern gave a tasteful splash of color to the interior without a hint of gaudiness. The upholstery was slightly different, with a Catalina/Ventura crest on the upper seat­­backs of both front and rear seats. Bucket seats, while originally intended to be a Bonneville-only option, eventually were expanded to the Ventura line as well. In order to maintain a sense of pecking order between the Ventura and the top-of-the line Bonneville, all Venturas, regardless of seating choices, used the same side-panel design as the Star Chief.

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1960 Pontiac Ventura Mechanics

The 1960 Pontiac Ventura mechanics, including its wide range of engine offerings, were shared with other cars throughout the lineup. The chassis for 1960 Pontiacs was of the familiar X-frame design, with coil springs at all four corners. The frame design was very rigid, with its backbone-style center-rail system, though the lack of side rails did not provide optimal side-impact protection. It did, however, allow for flat floorpans that increased interior space somewhat.

1960 Pontiac Ventura
The 1960 Pontiac Ventura had engine options
ranging up to 368 horsepower -- or more.

The rear suspension was improved in 1960, benefiting from revised upper-control-arm locating points and larger bushings for a smoother ride. Addition­ally, station wagons and other heavy-duty applications received a rear stabilizer bar, which was optional in other models, including the Ventura. The 1960 model year also saw the introduction of the attractive and popular eight-lug wheel option, which used an integral aluminum wheel center/brake drum and a bolt-on steel rim.

The Ventura's powertrain options were the same as in the Catalina line and covered the gamut from economy-oriented to all-out racing, with something in between. The engine lineup was essentially a carryover from 1959, and all were based on the powerful and flexible 389.

The Pontiac V-8 engine was initially released in 1955 as a 287-cubic-inch V-8 with 180 horsepower. The horsepower wars of the Fifties resulted in yearly increases in displacement from 1956 to 1959, ultimately picking up 102 cubic inches in five model years. Though the Pontiac V-8 did not get an increase in displacement for 1960, there were some other improvements made. The most significant was the addition of a divided-chamber water-pump housing, known as the "Equa-Flow" cooling system.

The Ventura's base engine was a regular-fuel job with a two-barrel carburetor sporting an 8.6:1 compression ratio and a mild hydraulic cam. It was rated at 215 horsepower at 3,600 rpm, and 390 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 revs. This particular engine was available only with manual transmissions, though a very similar 230-horsepower version was a no-cost "economy" option for cars ordered with an auto­matic transmission. It was known as the "Tempest 425E."

For Venturas with automatic transmission, the base engine was a high-compression two-barrel 389 rated at 283 horsepower at 4,400 rpm and 413 pound-feet at 2,800. Its 10.25:1 compression required premium fuel. This engine gave a good compromise between power and economy.

Those seeking more performance had several choices available to them. A four-barrel version of the base automatic engine was available with the same 10.25:1 compression ratio. It made 303 horsepower at 4,600 rpm, with 425 pound-feet of torque at 2,800 rpm. It, too, was available only with automatic transmissions.

Next up the performance ladder was the "entry-level" Tri-Power 389, which used three Rochester two-barrel carburetors and sported a 10.75:1 compression ratio. (This engine used the same mild camshaft as the others previously listed.) The end carburetors would only open when needed, so in normal operation, it was a smooth, flexible powerplant with very impressive power when called upon. The added breathing and compression upped horsepower to 318 at 4,600 revs. The torque rating swelled to 430 pound-feet at 3,200 rpm.

The next two versions of the famed 389 V-8 were true purpose-built high-performance engines known as the "Tempest 425A." They were still streetable, but they represented the outer limits of street performance and were also the basis for Pontiac's race engines.

Both of the 425A engines used heavy four-bolt-main blocks, as well as 10.75:1 compression and hotter hydraulic cams with heavy-duty valve springs. The standard exhaust manifolds were replaced with streamlined, high-flow units. These engines were serious performance mills intended only for equally serious performance enthusiasts.

The first 425A featured a single four-barrel carburetor and was good for 333 horsepower, while the 425A Tri-Power put out 348 horses. Peak power for both arrived at 4,800 rpm. These engines were available with a heavy-duty Borg-Warner T-85 three-speed manual transmission or heavy-duty four-speed Super Hydra-Matic automatic. A Borg-Warner T-10 close-ratio four speed became available as well, but in very limited supply. The majority went to well-connected racers, such as Arnie "The Farmer" Beswick.

For those looking for a competition-only powerplant for stock-car, drag-racing, or hillclimb events, Pontiac's new Super Duty parts program was there to outfit a competitive race car for classes requiring factory-supplied parts. The 389 Super Duty was at least theoretically available as an over-the-counter conversion package, though the engines were generally sent to factory-backed race teams.

Starting with the same four-bolt block used as the 425A, the 389 Super Duty was a powerhouse featuring a forged-steel crankshaft and stouter forged rods and pistons. Redesigned cylinder heads featured freer-flowing ports and larger 1.92-inch intake valves (production engines had 1.88-inchers), while the exhaust valves remained at 1.60 inches. The larger intake valves necessitated a chamfer in the cylinder bores for clearance and to maximize flow.

The valves were actuated by a special solid-lifter cam known as the McKellar #7, named for Pontiac engineer Malcolm R. "Mac" McKellar. It featured 300/304 degrees of duration and .445/.447 inches of lift with the specific 1.65:1 rocker arms.

The choice of induction systems was dependent on the intended usage. The NASCAR ban on multiple carburetion necessitated the use of a single four-barrel carb, so a special two-plane aluminum intake manifold was designed. It mounted a Carter AFB carburetor. Drag racers, who were allowed to use multiple carburetion, took advantage of Pontiac's Tri-Power system. Both aluminum and cast-iron versions of the intakes were available, though the lightweight aluminum units were very scarce.

Being rather cagey with horsepower ratings to stay competitive in NHRA drag racing, Pontiac rated the four-barrel Super Duty at 363 horsepower and the triple-carb version at 368. It was purely for show anyway, as both engines were substantially stronger than that, to the tune of more than 400 horsepower.

Though no formal road tests of a Super Duty Pontiac were featured in magazines, the May 1960 issue of Motor Trend ran a two-page drag test of a 1960 Ven­tura coupe with the 348-horse "425A" engine with Tri-Power carburetion. Coupled with a heavy-duty three-speed manual transmission (with an aftermarket floor shift) and 3.42:1 gears with the optional Safe-T-Track limited-slip differential, the Ventura ran a 0-45-mph time of 5.7 seconds, a 0-60 time of 7.9 seconds, and a quarter-mile run of 14.8 seconds at 89 mph. The top speed was estimated at 138 mph, a heady rate for a nearly two-ton car with lots of frontal area.

Ventura base prices started at $205 more than comparble Catalinas, but $284 less than Bonneville hardtop coupes and sedans. Pontiac built 56,277 1960 Ven­turas: 27,577 coupes and 28,700 sedans. (Of that total, 2,381 were assembled with manual transmissions.) The Ventura outsold the three-model Star Chief line by almost 12,600 units for the model year.

Though the name Ventura returned in 1961, it was, like the rest of the full-sized Pontiac line, hung on a completely new car. Only the drivetrains bore any resemblance to their predecessors.

The 1961 Pontiacs rode on an all-new perimeter frame, which replaced the cruciform design. The new design provided more side-impact protection and allowed the use of a single-piece driveshaft, instead of the previous two-piece unit.

Perhaps the most significant change in the full-sized Pontiac line was its re- duction in size. The "short-wheelbase" Catalina and Ventura dropped three full inches, from 122 to 119 inches, and shed around 200 pounds. This strategy worked well for the Ventura, but it tended to annoy the owners of Bonnevilles, which surrendered an inch of wheelbase. It was a smaller car in a "bigger is better" market segment. The cars were slightly narrower, too, resulting in a "Wide-Track" stance that was 1.5 inches less wide than in 1960.

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1961 Pontiac Ventura

The styling of the 1961 full-sized line, including the 1961 Pontiac Ventura, was completely different from the previous year, and more "Pontiac-like" than before. Up front, the split-grille theme of 1959 returned in a new interpretation. Bright-metal mesh grilles were laid back at about a 45-degree angle, while the openings formed by the hood and front fenders were slanted slightly forward. The treatment gave the effect of motion, even at rest.

1961 Pontiac Ventura
With a new design but still no side pillars,
the 1961 Ventura offered 360-degree visibility.

Venturas were available in the same two hardtop body styles, both of which featured new roof contours. The two-door hardtop roofline was a sleek and graceful update of the 1959-1960 style. It swept gently back from the A-pillars to the rear deck, ending in a pair of tapering C-pillars. The large glass area, thin pillars, and "bubbletop" design offered 360-degree visibility and a spectacular appearance. The vision-distorting wraparound windshield was replaced with a less-radical, though still-curved, design.

The four-door hardtop used the same windshield design as the coupe, but with a much more formal roofline. It no longer had a rear overhang, and was, in fact, more modern looking. The C-pillars were much wider than on the coupe, though they were still restrained and attractive.

The Ventura's rear-end treatment was clean and understated, much in keeping with its sophisticated persona. A combination of vestigial tailfins and chrome-plated end caps served as a visual extension from the bumper, and contained the small rectangular taillamps shared with Catalinas.

All 1961 Pontiacs featured a spearlike extrusion in the bodyside sheetmetal. This feature included a concave area that began in the front doors and tailed toward the back. On Venturas and Star Chiefs, a thin band of brightwork ran over the extrusion, then edged the rim of the concave area. Series-name script was placed inside the concavity.

Ventura interiors were all-new as well. A completely redesigned dash with a full-width covelike opening featured a horizontal 120-mph speedometer and plenty of bright trim. Tri-tone Morrokide upholstery, Ventura crests on the seats, and a translucent steering wheel rounded out the attractive package.

Powertrains displayed a few changes in output and availability. (Engines were now known as Trophy V-8s considering that the Tempest name was newly applied to a family of compact cars.) The base engine for manual-shift cars was still the low-compression 215-horsepower 389. Automatic-equipped cars started with a 267-horsepower version with 10.25:1 compression, but the lower-compression "economy" 425E 389 rated at 230 horsepower remained available.

Moving up to a four-barrel carburetor gave the 10.25:1 version of the 389 a rating of 287 horsepower at 4,400 rpm, with 417 pound-feet of torque at 2,400. This powerplant was available only with the automatic, but those who stuck with the stick could now select a four-barrel engine, too; a 235-horsepower job with 8.6:1 compression that was borrowed from the Bonneville.

The rest of the Pontiac street-engine lineup was the same as in 1960, including the 318-horse Tri-Power as well as the 333- and 348-horse versions of the high-performance 425A series. The 389-cubic-inch Super Duty returned as well, with new high-flow cylinder heads but the same power rating.

Late in the model year, a dozen or so copies of a new 421-cubic-inch Super Duty V-8 were released. This new engine was not a factory-installed option, but was available to selected racers such as Mickey Thompson and Arnie Beswick. The 421 used the same block as the 389 Super Duty, but was bored and stroked for its additional displacement. The forged-steel crankshaft also made use of larger 3.25-inch main journals.

It should come as no surprise that few believed Pontiac's factory rating of 373 horsepower for the dual-quad 421, which was just five horsepower more than the Tri-Power 389 Super Duty's obviously underreported 368 horses. It's safe to say that the 421 was putting out about 100 more horsepower than the factory rating.

The transmission lineup was more significantly changed. While the standard and heavy-duty three-speed manual gearboxes returned from 1960, the Borg-Warner T-10 four speed became a regular-production offering, as opposed to its very limited availability the year before.

The biggest change for the Catalina and Ventura was the replacement of the four-speed Super Hydra-Matic transmission with the new three-speed Roto-Hydra-Matic, also known as the "Slim Jim" because of its more compact dimensions. This transmission was a medium-duty unit that was shared with Oldsmobile. It ultimately proved to be rather trouble-prone and some potential buyers who wanted the proven Super Hydra-Matic were forced to go with a Star Chief or Bonneville.

In another of the auto industry's periodic down years, demand for full-sized Pontiacs declined sharply in 1961 (though sales of 100,000 Tempests softened some of the blow). Ventura orders slumped to 27,209 cars -- 13,297 two-door hardtops and 13,912 four-door hardtops -- enough to fall behind the Star Chief by about 2,300 units. While just 1,940 Venturas were equipped with manual transmissions, that actually represented a proportional gain of stickshift installations.

There was no need for the Ventura after 1961, not with the new Grand Prix that combined Bonne­ville luxury, Catalina size, strong performance, and distinctive styling features. The 1960-1961 Ventura effectively bridged the gap between the late-Fifties Bon­nevilles and the 1962 Grand Prix. In fact, formal-roofed prototypes for a Grand Prix-like car built as early as 1959 carried Ventura nameplates, and the name even appeared in early press photos of the car that eventually became the GP.

From 1962 to 1970, most Catalinas could be ordered with an upgraded Ventura interior option. (Cars so equipped were even badged as Venturas for a few years in the late Sixties.) The name last resurfaced on the Chevy Nova-based compact Pontiac sold in the Seventies.

In their own right, the first Pontiac Venturas represented a sophisticated departure from the chrome-laden excesses of the previous decade. The idea of an upscale high-performance vehicle with luxurious appointments is every bit as appealing today as it was more than 40 years ago.

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1960-1961 Pontiac Ventura Specifications

The 1960-1961 Pontiac Ventura served its roles well. It transitioned Pontiac from the limited-edition version of the Bonneville to the Grand Prix, while still giving the company a car that offered both performance and luxury. Here are the 1960-1961 Pontiac Ventura specifications, giving numbers for both of the full-size Ventura's model years.

1961 Pontiac Ventura
The full-size Pontiac Ventura, shown as a 1961
model, was gone almost as soon as it arrived.

1960 Pontiac Ventura (wheel base, 122 inches)

Weight (lbs.)
Price (new)
Number built
Hardtop coupe
Vista hardtop sedan


1961 Pontiac Ventura (wheelbase, 119 inches)

Weight (lbs.)
Price (new)
Number built
Hardtop coupe
Vista hardtop sedan


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